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  • Writer's pictureJames Purvis

The Top 6 Sales Lessons I Learned from the Industry's Only 5X CRO

If you are in tech sales, it's likely you have heard of "The Godfather" of enterprise software sales, Mr. John McMahon. He's often referred to as "The Godfather" since he's the only 5X Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) out there and created some of the most successful sales teams the industry has ever seen during his time at the helm of PTC, Geo-Tel, Ariba, BladeLogic and BMC. More recently, John has helped shape tech giants such as MongoDB, DataDog, Zscaler, Sprinklr, Lacework, AppDynamics, and Snowflake through his effective sales management philosophies and MEDDPICC sales qualification methodology which is used by thousands of sales organizations across the globe still today.


With the numerous credentials, incredible reputation, and the fact that I've worked for several companies that John has had a strong influence on, I thought I would take a deeper look into his approach to success.


After reading a lot of his content and watching various interviews, I tasked myself to boil down the three most important lessons that John McMahon taught me for both sales leaders and individual contributors.



3 Lessons for Sales Leaders


1. Focus on Development, Not Friendship


McMahon is a strong believer that the job of being an effective sales leader is to focus on coaching - not to be the best buds with your team. McMahon says:


“They already have enough friends. They’re looking for a leader who can coach them, develop them, push them to achieve things they never thought they could achieve.”


If you hire the right people, they will want to continuously be pushed and strive to get better so that they can achieve results they never thought possible. McMahon states, "If your reps are not moving, they are not growing." So your reps don't go stagnant, it's upon you to show something inside of them that they didn't even see in themselves.


As a sales leader, McMahon states, "If you want to get what you want, you have to get others what they want" so it's important to always have your reps' best interests at heart. Be intimate with your people and know where they are in their career and what they really desire and help them get there.


As a leader, the more you help your team members grow, the more success they will have and success breeds loyalty.


“I think highly of you. I think you should be at a higher level. So do others. I know you can get there. I can help you get there.” - John McMahon

2. The Culture Should be About Winning


When McMahon discusses a sales culture, he references that employees ultimately want to be proud. They want to be proud of the company, proud of the people they work with, and proud of the people they work for and the precursor to pride is winning.


Creating a winning culture starts with recruitment and John stresses that there should be a deep inspection on a potential recruit's capabilities against the hiring profile and you should recruit based on intelligence and persistence. If someone is smart enough, they’ll gain the knowledge of the game and if they are persistent enough, they will be determined to practice new skills over and over again.


“If sales managers hire C-grade players and do everything else perfectly—onboarding, training, developing, and maintaining a great sales process—that team will still have a difficult time becoming the number one sales force. However, if you hire only grade A players and do everything else average, the A players will help you find a way to win.” - John McMahon

Once an A-player is on board, it's critical to help them continue to grow, learn, earn, and win so that they can attract more A-players to the organization and create a winning cycle. If A-players start to see themselves being surrounded by C-players, they will leave because they won't be able to learn anything from their peers and the winning culture will die with it.


3. Don't be a "Glorified Scorekeeper."


According to John, most sales leaders out there are really just “glorified scorekeepers” because most of them do very little to motivate and develop their teams. Instead, they’re focused on deals - not rep competency. These types of managers use their power of position as a way to manage which is heavily based on rep activity (i.e. # of calls, # of POCs, etc) as opposed to helping people actually accomplish something. Power of position is highly "transactional" and leads to high attrition and only short-term gains. The truly great leaders motivate through understanding strengths, weaknesses, desires, goals, and insecurities to get to the betterment of the rep.


McMahon encourages managers to treat the sales process like a sports playbook. For every stage of the process (or "play"), you have to ask yourself, "What are the skills and knowledge required to successfully complete this stage?" Then, align your training and coaching efforts to bridge any gaps.


The hallmark of a great sales leader is one that is selfless. McMahon's analogy is that being a sales leader is like having a bunch of kids. It's about their success and not yours. You must take your ego and put it away. The mindset is to make others successful. It's not about you, it's about them.


"I want all my people to make more money than me because that means I executed on the plan. Help other people get what they want and it will help you get what you want." - John McMahon

3 Lessons for Individual Contributors


1. Understand the Power Chart, Not the Org Chart


McMahon indicates that an org chart is just a hierarchy that tells you who reports to who and something you can gather online whereas a"Power Chart"is something you have to build which involves finding who has influence and authority which is much more valuable to a seller.


In order to build a Power Chart, first, you have to find the person who actually has the pain. This takes quite a bit of homework and a lot of asking around:

  • Who made the last couple of purchases?

  • If somebody got hit by a bus, who gets promoted?

  • Who are the rising stars in the organization?

  • Who at the C-level is in charge of new initiatives?

There are 4 sets of people in a "Power Chart":


Stay close to:


1. IAs = Influence & Authority

2. INAs = Influence, No Authority


These are the people that the CEO puts on company initiatives which are not always the people who report directly to him or her. Salespeople have to find the folks with power and influence (i.e. Champions and Economic Buyers). Champions have the ear of the Economic Buyer (EB) who is assigned to solve BIG business problems. The EB needs someone they can hold accountable for the success of the product which reverts back to the Champion.


Stay away from:


3. NINAs = No Influence, No Authority

4. ANIs = Authority, No Influence


These are the people who can waste your time, resources, and ability to get a deal done.


2. Talk Business Problems, Not Features


The best salespeople talk about business problems and speak the same language as C-Suite. Those who understand the biggest pains and are able to effectively quantify them have a BIG advantage. This all starts by knowing The 3 Why's.

  • Why should your customer buy anything?

  • Why should they buy from you?

  • Why should they buy now?

If you are talking features and functions, it will just push you down the chain of command (or worse, the "Power Chart"). Most customers don’t know the degree of their pain because they never really quantified it. Top reps don't rush the front end of the sales process because they take their time to fully discover the prospect's pain, and the quantification of that pain, and understand the current state vs. future state with a cost justification to do something as well as the cost to do nothing. In the end, the gain has to outweigh the pain.


John also states that as you start to talk about business problems with your prospect, it's important to know:

  • What suffers?

  • Who suffers?

  • What regulations suffer?

"Company's have hundreds of pain points. Most of them you can put a band-aid on it and you will survive. Others require third-party attention in order to live. You have to get above the noise." - John McMahon


3. Sniper vs. Machine Gun


Don't try to sell to everybody. You have to be very smart about whom you target to be able to answer the question: Where is the biggest return on my investment?


It starts with knowing where your product is really strong and positioning it to where you have the highest probability of winning.


McMahon suggests a 3 step approach to maximizing sales efforts:


STEP 1: Identify the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

  • Which companies will our value proposition resonate the most with?

STEP 2: Identify the Pains

  • What are the biggest pains for the ICP?

  • What are the buying personas within the ICP?

  • What are the pains specific to these buying personas?

STEP 3: Develop the Sales Process

  • The sales process should be focused on solving pains specific to your ICP

  • Use the customer's language (not yours)

  • Highlight your differentiators throughout your campaign

In a nutshell: This is the differentiation of our product, it solves these pain points, and it's tied to these use cases, where these people care the most and are within this industry.


"When Jessie James was asked why he robbed banks, he said - Because that's where the money is!" - John McMahon

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